Tony Powell reports on Ofsted’s review of the effectiveness of the governing body and its inspection reports.

Background

As originally constituted, the role of the governing body was to represent the needs and views of all the stakeholders in a school, and governors were elected or nominated from different sectors of the community. This began to change with the transfer of responsibility for the budget through local management of schools, followed by grant-maintained status, which was rescinded by the Labour Government, but heightened again by the introduction of academies and free schools under the current Government.

Since his appointment as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw has adopted what might be called the professionalisation of governance. The Ofsted report now includes a separate section on the effectiveness of the governing body — and where leadership and management are judged to “require improvement” or to be “inadequate”, the report may recommend an external review of governance.

The guidance in brief

The School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013 apply to maintained schools, federations of maintained schools, and the management committees of pupil referral units. They do not apply to academies.

The related guidance is non-statutory. In practice, this means schools will have to demonstrate a compelling reason for not following it, and academies and free schools should study it and adopt what is promoted as good practice if they are not already doing so.

Key points

The “board of governors” should operate at a strategic level, leaving the Head and senior school leaders responsible and accountable for the operational day-to-day running of the school.

The board should avoid using up its time with issues of secondary importance, and focus strongly on the core functions of:

  • setting the vision and strategic direction of the school

  • holding the Head to account for its educational performance

  • ensuring financial resources are well spent.

Governors need a robust process and framework for:

  • setting priorities

  • creating accountability

  • monitoring progress.

It is good practice for the board to review its own performance regularly and publish an annual statement to explain how it has fulfilled its responsibilities.

Boards should develop and maintain a scheme of delegation to define explicitly at which level each of its functions will be exercised. It is crucial that the board, as a whole, retains oversight of the core functions. The chair has a vital role in keeping the board focused on its core functions, and in ensuring it operates effectively, including through the active contribution of all its members.

High-quality professional clerking is crucial to the effective functioning of the board.

Members of the board and its committees must be present in a meeting to vote, but they may be present “virtually”, for example by telephone or video conference.

Fulfilling the core functions

As an educational professional and a governor at two schools, I recognise the different skills and qualities that other governors contribute. Few can analyse the RAISEonline report, but they may have a detailed and long-term knowledge of the community the school serves. Others may have a business background, which I do not, and the quiet governor may cut straight to the principle of a discussion with plain common sense.

However, and this is particularly the case during inspections, many find it difficult to articulate their work in response to technical phrases such as “setting the strategic direction”. Since one of the key points is to “publish an annual statement to explain how [the board] has fulfilled its responsibilities”, it would be a good exercise for governors to consider how each of their tasks contributes to the core functions. The following are some suggestions.

Setting the vision and strategic direction of the school

Appointing the Head

Recently, we went through the process of appointing a new Head for September 2014. Our first meeting was held on 14 October 2013 and we finished the interviews on 16 January 2014. The full governing body spent a lot of time agreeing the person specification, and the appointment panel then used this at every stage of the selection process. The purpose was to ensure that the person chosen would share our values and priorities and, therefore, take the school forward in the right “strategic” direction.

Mission statement

The mission statement should be the lodestone for the school’s strategic direction, and long-term evaluations should be set against how well we are fulfilling our mission. Our Head designate has indicated that she would like to revisit the mission statement in the autumn term and the governing body has agreed. Even without a new Head, the mission statement should be reviewed every three or five years, and as many governors as possible should be involved. It should become part of the life of the school as a reference point for all major decisions.

School improvement plan

All schools have a school improvement plan. Most commonly, this is a three-year rolling programme, although some schools have a five-year plan. The plan is the most coherent statement of the school’s strategic direction. Since “strategic” relates to having a broad overview and taking all variables into account, the plan should be linked to all other aspects of the school’s work and certainly to the budget. When it is approving priorities and endorsing the whole plan, the governing body is setting the school’s long-term direction, in partnership with the Head and senior leaders.

Holding the Head to account for the school’s educational performance

Monitoring, evaluation and planning cycle

Data analysis to identify areas for investigation, and monitoring to identify causal factors, should be integrated into the work of all schools. This will result in regular reports by the Head and other leaders and link governors to the full governing body and sub-committees. Ask the Head to formalise all this activity plus other regular tasks, such as reviewing policies, into a monitoring, evaluation and planning cycle.

Self-evaluation statement

All of the judgments endorsed by the governing body should be articulated in the self-evaluation statement. This should be structured around the Ofsted evaluation schedule and grade descriptors, and all governors should be familiar with at least a summary of the document. A good way to achieve this is for senior leaders to present governors with the written text for a key aspect, such as “behaviour and safety” and for the governors to grade it using the grade descriptors.

Performance management

The appointed governors hold the Head to account through her or his appraisal. Beyond this, performance management should be used to hold all staff to account and, of course, to reward them.

Ensuring financial resources are well spent

Audit reports

Audit reports will show that resources are being managed efficiently and prudently.

Schools Financial Value Standard

The completed School Financial Value Standard provides evidence that the governing body is following recommended good practice.

Ofsted

In an inspection, Ofsted will test whether the school has sufficient resources and how these are deployed. It will look, in particular, at the use of additional funding, especially the pupil premium grant and the link between appraisal and performance-related pay.

Last reviewed 21 March 2014